The Pascal Mystery

“The Christian who is happy  enough to enter, with his whole  mind and heart, into the know ledge and the love of the Paschal  Mystery, has reached the very  center of the supernatural life.”  — Dom Prosper Guéranger, The  Liturgical Year, vol. VII. 

Centrality of the Paschal  Mystery 

What is this term “Paschal  Mystery?” It refers to the redemption wrought by our Lord  Jesus Christ, both in its dolorous  and its triumphant aspects. “By dying he [Jesus Christ] destroyed  our death, and by rising again he  restored us to life” (Preface of  Easter). 

The Paschal Mystery is at the very center of our Faith; it gives us hope of eternal life; and it  forms a pattern for our spiritual  lives. “For we are buried togeth er with [Christ] by baptism into  death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the  Father, so we also may walk in  newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  

A term poorly understood

Sadly, the liturgical “reformers”  of the twentieth century hijacked  the term “Paschal Mystery,” itself  quite ancient and orthodox, and  assigned it new meaning. Indeed,  this term has been used as a  Trojan horse for ushering into the  Church a false spirituality and a  gravely inaccurate concept of the  Redemption.  

In this new spirituality, the  triumph of our Lord comes to supplant the dolors of his passion, not only for Christ person ally, who has already entered into  his glory, but even for us here on  earth, so that the joyous elements  of the spiritual life must always prevail over the sorrowful;  accordingly, the Church militant  on earth has become an “Easter  people” and the crucifix has been  replaced, in many instances, with  the so-called “resurrexifix” or  image of our Lord triumphant.  

The danger of this new spiritual ity is that, as an “Easter people,”  we forget the grim reality that  we are strangers and pilgrims in  this world (1 Peter 2:11), where  our tears are our bread day and  night (Ps. 41:4), unhappy until  we be delivered from the body  of this death (Rom. 7:24). We  forget that, while our Lord has  entered already into his glory, we  ourselves still have to strive law fully (2 Tim. 2:5), finish our own  combat (2 Tim. 4:7) and be made  conformable to our Christ’s death  (Phil. 3:10). In other words, we  forget the difference between the  here and the hereafter. 

The Two Times 

“There are two times,” writes St.  Augustine: “one which is now,  and is spent in the temptations  and tribulations of this life; the  other which shall be then, and  shall be spent in eternal security  and joy. In figure of these, we  celebrate two periods: the time  before Easter, and the time after  Easter. That which is before  Easter signifies the sorrow of this  present life; that which is after  Easter, the blessedness of our  future state” (Ennarrations: Ps.  148). 

The joy of paschaltide can never  fully express the reality it signifies, nor indeed can it free  us from the uncertainty of our  present condition, in which we  are never sure of our perseverance. That is why the penitential  seasons of the Church are some how more natural to us, more  suited to our present condition.  In these latter, we experience a  real sorrow; in those, a figura tive joy, foretaste of what is not  yet, but is to come. Meanwhile,  we console ourselves with the  thought that the true paschaltide  is one that we shall celebrate  for all eternity, where there will  be no mourning, or crying, or  sorrow anymore, for God shall  wipe away all tears from our eyes  (Apoc. 21:4). 

Centrality of the Cross 

Pope Pius XII forwarned us of  these dangers when he wrote,  “[I]t is perfectly clear how much  modern writers are wanting in  the genuine and true liturgic al spirit who, deceived by the  illusion of a higher mysticism… say that the glorified Christ, who 

liveth and reigneth forever and  sitteth at the right hand of the  Father, has been overshadowed  and in His place has been sub stituted that Christ who lived  on earth…[But] since His bitter  sufferings constitute the principal mystery of our redemption,  it is only fitting that the Catholic  faith should give it the greatest  prominence. This mystery is the  very center of divine worship,  since the Mass represents and  renews it every day and since all  the sacraments are most closely  united with the cross” (Pius XII,  Encyclical Mediator Dei, 162-164  [emphasis added]). 


There is a reason why the sufferings, and not the joys, of Christ constitute the principal mystery of our  Redemption. It is that our Lord merited our salvation by his sufferings and death; he did not merit by his Resurrection. Since the Redemption was essentially an act of atonement—atonement that requires compensation, or “buying back” at a price—the merits of our Lord’s sufferings are essential to the work of the  Redemption in a way that the Resurrection is not, since they alone are the price of our salvation, by which we are redeemed (or bought back) from the servitude of sin. For, “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of  a lamb unspotted and undefiled”

(1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ’s death on the cross was his formal act of oblation, by which he offered himself as a victim in satisfaction for our sins. His dying words, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” were like the words of the consecration of the Mass, effecting what they signify, the voluntary sacrifice of his life: for, by a free act of the will he breathed forth his last. “No man taketh [my life] away from me: but I lay it down of myself” (Jn. 10:18). The Resurrection is the response of the Father, showing that he is pleased and accepts the victim that has been offered. It is a reward given to the Son for laying down His life; it is furthermore a pledge of our own future resurrection. And in the present time it signifies our spiritual resurrection from the death of sin, effected by the grace that Christ merited for us on the cross. The resurrection of Christ is thus a beautiful, integral part of the Paschal Mystery; but the sufferings of Christ are what constitute the “principal mystery of our redemption,” and must therefore be given the “greatest prominence” in our spiritual life and in the liturgical life of the Church.


by Father William MacGillivray